Women Leaders in PR: Margery Kraus On What It Takes to Create a Successful Business

In this week’s installment of the Women Leaders in PR series, we talk with Margery Kraus, who launched APCO Worldwide in 1984. Though the firm is now a well-established, international business, it was once a startup, like many of the organizations that Kraus had worked with before striking out on her own.

For Kraus, the most important factor in having a successful business is being a daring (though strategic) businesswoman. She tells us what exactly that means, and what you need to get your business started.

Tune in next week for the final (bonus!) installment of our Women Leaders in PR series.

Margery Kraus, APCO Worldwide

“You have to know how to seize opportunities, raise money, find money, get the support you need, and build a network of people that endorse what you’re doing.”

These are some of the first words that Margery Kraus, founder and CEO of APCO Worldwide, said to us when we interviewed her for this article. She was talking specifically about the days back in 1971 when she was launching the Close Up Foundation, which provides students in Washington D.C. with civics programs. But she could have been talking about any business at any time.

At its inception, Close Up was “an idea,” says Kraus, without a clear plan or supporters. But Kraus knew she needed to drum up some attention for the new organization. Today, the Close Up Foundation is a successful nonprofit organization with 725,000 alums, funded by the U.S. Congress, Department of Education, C-SPAN, and other groups. She was with the group for 14 years and is still involved with it.

After that, she was approached by the law firm Arnold & Porter to establish a consulting affiliate.

“When I decided to do it, it wasn’t like someone had some grand design,” she says. “I had to figure out how to make something from nothing; leverage the fact that there was an idea, but not resources, and earn a way. It wasn’t so much a scary thing. It was just a fact. No one was going to hand you the business and say this is what you’ll have to do.”

Making a way and starting with a good idea are the two things that each of Kraus’ business endeavors have in common. Kraus says that when she started APCO in 1984, “I’d never worked in an agency. It wasn’t about PR.” Still, APCO is an international PR and public affairs firm with clients that have included Mercedes-Benz, IKEA, and the government of Madagascar.

“It was more about making something happen for clients,” says Kraus. “Communications as part of the solution but sometimes not the total solution.”

From the beginning, she says there was a focus on reaching different target audiences around the world. And she feels that the firm filled (and continues to fill) a need in the market.

Other necessities for creating a successful company: the guts to not be “risk averse at critical times,” such as when deciding to make a big business leap. A little luck. And cash.

“When you get started, you need to have working capital, unless you can go without a salary” she says. “I had three kids and my husband works. I was 38 and had one child on the way to college. So I think you need to have a sponsor.” Having a sponsor includes having financial support and determining whether or not you’ll have a client base.

“It’s hard to convince those first clients that they should trust you when you’re not a proven commodity,” she adds. “Once you do that and start to show results and people appreciate a job well done, then it’s easier to build a business.”